Wondering why a reboot of Marvel’s not-very-old Spider-man movie franchise was called for now, just five years after the third installment of the last series? Wonder no more. The Amazing Spider-Man directed by (yes) Marc Webb is a demonstration of the dizzyingly joyous entertainment value of well-executed 3-D filming. And the film is a lot more than effects.
With an unusually high-quality script for an action flick and a fine cast led by The Social Network‘s Andrew Garfield, this iteration of the web-slinger’s origin story keeps several balls smartly in the air, including digital-age updating, a somewhat darkened family drama, and adherence to some of the important elements of the classic tale.
Garfield’s skinny, smart, mild-mannered Peter Parker has a more punchy and rebellious spirit than past Peters. The arachnid that fatefully bites him is part of a long-running series of secret experiments in imbuing one species with the characteristics of another. But Peter’s sudden powers doesn’t just turn him into a superhero; first they peel away the layer of studied nonchalance he has used to hide a bully-reinforced sense of ineffectiveness.
As a love interest, the red-headed Mary Jane (and her grating portrayal by Kirsten Dunst in the earlier Spider-Man films) has thankfully been replaced by Gwen Stacy (the steady, winning Emma Stone), a feisty blonde with an unlikely after-school life of her own and a stalwart police captain (Denis Leary) as a father. Peter’s gentle Uncle Ben and Aunt May (Martin Sheen and a glowing Sally Field) are kindly as ever, Ben as preachy as ever, but both are a bit more worldly too (and I celebrated seeing an Aunt May with dark, still-long hair). Other departures: the film references Peter’s budding photography career but then drops it, and the Daily Bugle, one of pop culture’s most entertaining fictional newspapers, is just a paper here, not a factor in Peter Parker’s life.
Scientific hubris is personified by a conflicted biologist (Rhys Ifans) who’s connected to Peter’s long-vanished father. Peter’s “father issues” are the film’s most striking departure from the classic Spider-man myth. Unlike some critics, I had no problem with this. It makes for a more modern and somehow realistic (or “realistic”) Spider-Man.
The essential theme – a kid who finds he has super powers and feels a calling to use them to help people in need, but is then rejected and demonized by the authorities even as he is lionized by some of the population – remains intact. The film finds the time and scope to explore that narrative while leaving room for plenty of exciting and sometimes innovative action sequences.
On a technical level, this story’s monster-foe may have remarkably expressive eyes but in terms of physicality he feels like run-of-the-mill CGI. The great thing here, rather, is how wonderfully well the 3-D enhances the scenes of Spidey swinging through the grand canyons of the film’s fantasy-New York, harassing thugs, fighting enemies, and saving the day. You really feel like you’re on a thrill ride at a theme park, minus the actual dizziness and nausea. And the length and pacing of these sequences feel just right. James Horner’s devious score fits right in, enhancing the action scenes and the dramatic-sentimental ones without being overbearing. (You can hear it right now at AOL Music).
A premature reboot? I would have thought so, but in the event, no. Buy your ticket, pop on your 3-D glasses, and take to the skies with The Amazing Spider-Man.
Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures